Masked Bees

What is a masked bee - a single masked bee stood on a piece of wood
Masked Bee Classification
Class: Insecta
Order: Hymenoptera
Family: Colletidae
Genus: Hylaeus

The masked bee is a common species found worldwide and plays an important role in many ecosystems. Masked bees are a genus of bees characterized by a yellow or white “mask” that consists of markings on their faces.[1] 

Masked bees are part of the genus Hylaeus, which includes a large number of species.

There are a few differences among these species, however, including the mask on the masked bee’s face and other physical characteristics that distinguish them from other bee species. 

Pollination by masked bees is unique, as they consume pollen and nectar directly from plants rather than collecting them on their external body hairs. 

This is due to the fact that masked bees do not have any of the hairs that other bees possess. These hairs are responsible for accumulating pollen and transferring it from one plant to another.

Why Are They Called Masked Bees?

Masked bees are named after the “mask” that can be found on their faces.[2] While different types of masked bees have different looking masks, they are all grouped together due to this physical feature, among others. 

The mask that gives these bees their namesake is actually made up of markings that exist on the faces of masked bees. These markings can be yellow or white, depending on the species of masked bee, and their appearance can vary depending on the species as well. 

Another factor that influences the appearance of these masks is the sex of the bee. 

Male and female masked bees often have different masks, even if they are members of the same species.[3] So while the actual appearance of the mask may be more noticeable on certain types of species of these bees, they all have their own variation. 

Due to this, the genus has collectively become known as masked bees.

Where Can Masked Bees Be Found?

Masked bees can often be found in Australia, which is where they are native.[4] However, they can be found all around the world, as around 700 species of masked bees are known to exist worldwide, with around 130 different types of masked bees existing in the Americas. 

This large number of masked bee species has resulted in a wide distribution throughout the world. A very large variety of masked bees are present in Australia, which has led to them becoming synonymous with the country. 

These bees are known to be most abundant during the spring seasons, although some may continue being very active into the fall as well, depending on the species and climate. In spring, they can often be found around a variety of plants as they search for pollen and nectar. 

How to Identify a Masked Bee

Masked bees are typically identified by the ‘mask’ that gives them their name.

Masked bees have many characteristics that make them easily identifiable from other bees, although some may accidentally identify them as a different insect entirely, such as a wasp.

Compared with other bees, masked bees are typically small and thin, with most measuring less than 10mm in length. Some species of masked bees can be closer to 4 mm long, making them extremely small.

As a result of its slender form, some people may mistake a masked bee for a wasp.

Masked bees benefit from this small size, as it allows them to crawl into many types of plants in order to feed on nectar and pollen.

Masks of masked bees are made from markings on their faces, which are normally shaped like squares or diamonds. Depending on the species of masked bee, these markings are often yellow or white.

Where do masked bee live
You will often find masked bees nesting in tree twigs and stems and it is not unusual for them to use preexisting cavities found in nature.

While the colored masks on masked bee heads may be striking, the bodies of these bees are typically black with no other color. In addition, masked bees are more likely to be mistaken for wasps because of their coloration. It is pertinent to note that some species of masked bee actually have yellow or white markings along their bodies.

It is more likely that masked bees do not have circles around their abdomen, which distinguishes them from wasps. 

A masked bee’s body is often hairless, which makes it distinct from many other species of bee on the planet. [5] While many bees use their body hair to collect pollen, masked bees use different means to pollinate plants.

The lack of hair also gives the masked bee a slight shine that may be noticed by researchers when inspecting one. The masked bee’s shine can be very subtle and is not metallic, but if lit properly it may be visible.

Male masked bees have markings that extend much lower on their faces, whereas female masked bees have markings that are more prominent around their eyes. 

An experienced individual may be able to determine which species and sex of masked bee they are looking at by inspecting the markings on their faces and any on their bodies.

Where Do Masked Bees Live?

Masked bees live in quieter urban areas, along with more secluded areas like forests. A masked bee nests in tree twigs and stems, as well as in preexisting cavities found in nature.

Also referred to as solitary bees, masked bees build nests in normally secluded locations far from human activity and traffic.

As a result of this solitary nature, each female masked bee is responsible for raising her young on her own. As masked bees are quite small, the cavities they make their nests in do not have to be very large.

Mask bees also coat the inside of their nests with a material similar to cellophane, which they use to create brood cells for their eggs. 

Despite the fact that this material is sometimes placed twice in the nest, most of the nests produced by masked bees retain the overall shape of the preexisting structure that the bee chose to inhabit.

Because their mandibles are weak compared to other types of bees, masked bees often choose pre-existing nests and structures to build their nests. It is not possible for masked bees to construct elaborate nests due to a lack of strength and numbers.

What Do Masked Bees Eat?

Mask bees eat a wide variety of plants, and because they lack external hairs on their bodies, they must pollinate by eating nectar and pollen.

Although this method of pollination remains extremely effective and works well, scientists are unable to pinpoint exactly which plants masked bees visit for food due to the large variety of plants they consume. Consequently, the masked bee is less known than some other species.

These feeding habits can also change depending on the species of masked bee. Female Hylaeus bicolorellus masked bees, for example, can use their jaws to chew directly into the buds of flowers before they have opened, providing them with access to previously unavailable food sources.

Although not all masked bees can do this, it illustrates how diverse the species can be in terms of what they eat and how they collect it. In general, masked bees are thought of as generalist foragers as an overall genus.

Two masked bees pollinating and foraging from flowers
It is common for bees to collect pollen using their hairs, but the masked bee ingests the pollen and stores it in its crop, a special compartment within its stomach.

The masked bee collects pollen and nectar from a wide variety of flower types instead of relying solely on one or two types of flowers. This benefits nature, since masked bees are capable of pollinating a wide range of plant species.

Because they live off a wide variety of plants, masked bees are better able to survive, as they always have food available, even if certain plant species cease to exist in a particular area.

Deforestation and the extinction of preferred plants pose a risk to certain species of masked bees because they are unlikely to find alternative food sources.

Do Masked Bees Pollinate?

Masked bees do pollinate, however, they do not collect pollen in the manner commonly associated with other bees as they do not have hair on their bodies. Due to their small size, masked bees are actually able to enter plants that would be difficult for larger bees.

In spite of their short tongues, masked bees are capable of entering some plants fully, allowing them to reach pollen and nectar that other species are not able to access, thus assisting in the pollination process.

The pollination method of the masked bee is just another aspect that sets this genus apart from other types of bees. There are many things that masked bees do that are very different from what most people think of when they think of bees.

Using this method, masked bees can ingest pollen instead of collecting it on their body hairs. The pollen collected during this process is stored in the crop, a special compartment within the stomach of masked bees.

In this compartment, which is sometimes called the honey stomach, masked bees store pollen as they travel to their nest. Pollination by this method differs from that of many other types of bee. It allows masked bees to gather pollen and transport it back to their hives, where they can regurgitate it.

Do Masked Bees Make Honey?

Masked bees do not produce honey. As with many other species, masked bees are not capable of producing honey. Honeybees are best suited to this task, as they possess the necessary features and facilities.

The majority of the world’s bee species, including masked bees, do not produce honey. Honeybees and stingless bees are the only species that produce enough honey for humans to harvest.

A masked bee instead collects pollen and nectar, which it carries back to its larvae and eggs. Although masked bees do not produce honey, they are essential pollinators for the ecosystem.

Do Masked Bees Sting?

While mask bees can sting, some people do not consider them to be very painful in comparison to other types of bee stings. Since masked bees are solitary creatures, people are unlikely to be stung by them unless they provoke them or threaten them.

There is a wide range of stinging practices and behaviors among different species of masked bees, so people should always be cautious when encountering them in the wild.

Reproduction & Lifecycle of a Masked Bee

A cellophane-like material is used by masked bees to create brood cells within their nests. As a result, masked bees can take any pre-existing nest or hole and turn it into the most suitable nest for themselves and their eggs.

After masked bees consume pollen and nectar from plants, they regurgitate the contents of their crop into these brood cells. They then lay an egg inside each one.

Upon hatching, the masked bee’s larvae will have access to this pollen and nectar regurgitated in the cells alongside the eggs. Masked bee larvae and eggs spend their entire life cycle within the nest, feeding on nectar that other masked bees bring back when they go foraging.

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